For some people, the only way to drive is with three pedals and rowing your own. It doesn't matter which segment the car belongs to, be it a humble B-Segment sedan or a big SUV. This neatly brings me to next point.
To my surprise, Mitsubishi still offers a manual transmission in their PPV, the Montero Sport, in 4x4 trim. It sounds like an off-roader's dream with full control of the transmission paired with Super Select II 4WD but how does it fare as a daily driver? A test drive is in order but first, its looks.
We've tested Montero Sport models before and a lot has been said about the the styling. At the front is, in my opinion, a well-executed variation of the brand's 'Dynamic Shield' design. With its upswept headlights and bold grill, the Montero Sport is a handsome PPV. The box-flare wheelarches give the Montero Sport a hint of toughness while the character lines brings in more style to the slab-sided doors. Plus, the third window kink gives it a bit of flair.
Now we come to the rear part and let's just say the jury is still out. Like it or loathe it, the tail lights are a talking point of this PPV. Personally, I would have preferred if they cut the tail lights shorter. Cut those tail lights and I reckon the Montero Sport can be one of the best-looking cars in its class.
Stepping inside, the interior of the manual Montero Sport is mostly carried over from the automatic variants. The center console has been reshaped to accommodate the gear shifter and actually frees up space for a small cubby holder. Being a 4WD model, you lose one cupholder as taking its place is the selector for the Super Select II system.
Despite losing the 'Premium' tag, this Montero Sport comes pretty well equipped. The infotainment system is comprehensive, integrating GPS navigation, tire pressure monitoring and, perhaps a homage to the Pajero, a compass. It also gets an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and power seats for the driver.
As for interior space, the second row boasts a lot of legroom even with tall occupants at the front. However, the narrow body means three across can be a bit of a pinch. Third row accomodations however are a mixed-bag. Knee room is acceptable for those under 5'6” but the fixed second row mean no foot room, forcing you to sit in an awkward position. Stow the third row and the Montero Sport can carry large items with ease.
Speaking of the third row, it can be a little cumbersome. It's a multi-step process that requires you to shuffle between the second row and the tailgate if you have short arms. To put these seats in place, pull the tabs to raise the back rests and get back in the car to put the seat bases in place. Fortunately, stowing them is a lot easier by simply pulling two tabs.
Like all variants of the Montero Sport, this model is powered by the 2.4 liter MIVEC turbodiesel engine. With the help of MIVEC, it produces 181 PS and 430 Nm of torque. As mentioned earlier, lays its power down via a shift-on-the-fly 4WD system and a six-speed manual transmission. It sounds like a promising combination on the road then.
Start up the Montero Sport and it stays relatively hushed for a diesel. However, I did notice a little more vibration creeping into the cabin. This is particularly evident when you hold the gear stick and place your foot on the clutch. Speaking of its clutch, it requires a little more effort with the initial press being on the heavy side but lightens up when you fully depress it.
As for its shifter feel, it felt rubbery but throw was short considering it's a PPV. Driving the manual version of the Montero Sport reminds you that you are indeed driving something derived from a pick-up truck. That's not to say its a bad thing though. The pliant ride observed in the automatic models was retained. The soft ride did mean noticeable body lean on corners but it isn't unnerving.
Paired with a manual, the gearing on it was rather long with 60 km/h in fifth gear registering just a little over 1,000 rpm. This came in especially handy when taking on the uphill roads of Tagaytay. You can simply keep it in third gear with little throttle input and it will climb itself up with ease. It can also do that with just a little revs to keep it going. The 430 Nm of torque definitely helped. Shift up however and it begins to lose steam.
Out on the highway, the Montero Sport is a refined cruiser. Even in fifth gear, the revs are kept low and cabin noise is at a minimum. Sixth gear on the other hand is mainly used for overdrive. To make the most out of sixth, one may have to go beyond the speed limit as I was bogging down at 100 km/h in sixth. It's better to keep it in fifth when driving down the highway.
Off-road, the Montero Sport still rode surprisingly well. Long stroke suspension, coupled by the soft damping, meant that it soaked up bumps without jarring everyone inside. Dusty and rocky uphill climbs were easy picking for this 4WD model and the traction control made the ascent drama-free. The manual transmission added a degree of extra control on descents too.
As for fuel economy, metropolitan driving yielded 8.8 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 19 km/h. Highway driving meanwhile posted 14.3 kilometers per liter at an average pace of 88 km/h, the same at the automatic model we drove several months back.
So what justifies the manual Montero Sport over the automatic model? At Php 1,788,000, it's priced around the region of top-of-the-line 4x2 automatic models, making it not your typical value proposition. It's the only 4WD PPV in the market that offers this transmission. It's a good choice for off-roaders and those who frequent provincial drives. It will be difficult to convince city slickers to choose this model though but those who prefer to row their own will appreciate Mitsubishi's efforts.